The Path of Life

The Path of Life

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Play-Do, pursuits, and POWs

Wow, it has been quite a while since I’ve posted anything new here! So, I thought I’d provide an update on what’s been going on.

As previously mentioned, I took a little vacation in mid-April. Nothing too exciting, really, but some much-needed rest and relaxation. I did a lot of reading, and watched some Cincinnati Reds baseball on television (which I don’t normally get to do). One highlight was a brief visit with my sister and her family, including my little nephew Evan (soon to turn 3 years old, believe it or not). That’s him pictured above, busy creating Play-Do “pizzas” and “cookies” (two of the major food groups). We had a lot of fun; he sure is a joy to be around—and says the cleverest things.

Other than that, I’ve settled into my new job as secretary to the Archabbot in the monastery, and have been busy with the practicum portion of the spiritual direction program I’m in (besides meeting with directees, there’s a lot of self-evaluation, writing, and supervision work involved). This summer, I’ll also be filling in temporarily as secretary to the abbot’s council and the monastic chapter (the voting body of solemnly professed monks). Recently, I also was appointed to the liturgy advisory committee.

Last week, I gave a presentation on the topic of addictions as part of the formation program in the seminary. Over the next several weekends, I will be doing some traveling to Evansville, Indianapolis, and Louisville to present conferences to the oblate chapters in those cities. In the coming months, I need to prepare conferences for a retreat I’ve been asked to give two novices before they make their first profession in August (God and chapter willing), and also for a November day of recollection for oblates in New York (that will be my first-ever trip to New York City, so I am looking forward to that). On the side, I’ve been able to do a little writing, and recently had an article accepted for an upcoming issue of America magazine. Another publication has expressed tentative interest in another piece I’ve written, but has asked for some revisions.

The really big news around here at the moment, however, is the impending move of all the monks from the current monastery to Anselm Hall (which, until 1982, had been the monastery). This is due to extensive upgrades that are needed in the monastery—primarily to the heating, cooling, and plumbing systems throughout the structure. In addition, plans are to have the infirmary area expanded and reconfigured, and to remodel the refectory and pantry areas. All of the monks, and everything in the monastery, has to be out during the work, which is scheduled to take about 14 months.

The extensive moving operations are stepping into high gear right now. The target date for being totally in the “new” dwelling (which is actually the “old” monastery, and in any case is temporary) is May 27. The infirmary has already moved out, and crews are already doing some demo work in that wing. Things will soon be pretty messy around here—but, of course, with the idea of improving our home. The work certainly needs to be done. I hope to move my cell around the middle of May, with the secretary’s office more toward the end of the month (I’ve made some preliminary preparations, as have most of us, in the last month or so). Then, for the next 14 months, we will be living in quite different arrangements than what we have now. We will be occupying space normally reserved for seminarians, who will be shifted to areas on the Hill typically provided for guests. So, accommodations on the Hill may be a little tight for the next year and a half—if you’re planning to make a visit, get your reservations in early!

In my free time, I’ve been paying close attention to the fortunes and misfortunes of the Cincinnati Reds. Things don’t look all that rosy for them at the moment, but the season is still young, and there are enough bright spots to warrant some degree of optimism.

I’ve also been reading a compelling and inspiring book—Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, by Laura Hillenbrand (there’s also a movie that came out recently). In Unbroken, Hillenbrand, who also wrote the best-seller Seasbiscuit: An American Legend, relates the true story of Louis Zamperini, an American who was one of the world’s bright young track stars in the 1930s. Literally one of the fastest men on the planet in long-distance running, he competed in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin at age 19, and was looking forward to almost certain gold in the scheduled 1940 Olympics in Tokyo. Of course, World War II intervened, and the Olympics were canceled. Zamperini enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps in September 1941, and became a bombardier. He and his crew saw significant combat action in the Pacific. After their plane sustained substantial damage in one battle, resulting in several injuries to the crew, Zamperini and a few of the more healthy crew members were transferred to Hawaii, and participated in a search and rescue mission for a missing aircraft. During the flight in May 1943, their plane encountered mechanical difficulty and crashed into the ocean, killing 8 of the 11 men on board. Zamperini, the injured pilot, and another crew member survived, and together they sought refuge on a flimsy raft, floating on the open water exposed to the elements with almost no food or water. Besides battling severe thirst, hunger, exposure, and isolation, they were on constant guard against ravenous sharks, who brushed up against their raft and even tried to leap in to make a meal of them. For good measure, while American search parties never found them, a Japanese bomber did, and strafed their raft with bullets. No one were injured, but the raft was ruined, and they had to make speedy repairs—while also fending off the hungry sharks. Zamperini and the pilot endured this long ordeal, but the third member of the party eventually died. The two survivors continued to drift westward toward the Marshall Islands. They were adrift for 47 days. The U.S. first informed family members that they were missing in action, and then declared them dead. And then things got really bad….

In the Marshall Islands, the two were captured, interrogated, and imprisoned by the Japanese. For the next two and a half years—until the war ended—they endured not only unbelievably deplorable living conditions, but intense starvation, beatings, torture, slavery, and simply the most inhuman brutality imaginable in several prisoner-of-war camps. It is simply amazing they survived (not to mention sickening what human beings are capable of doing to one another).

After the war, Zamperini got married, but he was understandably tormented psychologically by what he had endured as a POW (pure nightmares, only they were real!). Bitter and angry, he became a heavy drinker and quite abusive. With the aid of his wife and a Billy Graham crusade, he experienced a religious conversion, quit drinking, and finally experienced peace of mind after being able to forgive those who had tormented him as a POW. He became an inspirational speaker, and in the 1950s, returned to Japan, where he met with and expressed mercy to the imprisoned war criminals who during the war had made his life a living hell. Some, he later said, became Christians themselves as a result.

In 1998, when he was 80 years old, Zamperini ran a leg in the Olympic torch relay in Nagano, Japan, near one of the POW camps where he had been held captive. He died just last summer (in July, 2014) at age 97! It is simply an amazing story. What a testament to the grace-filled endurance of the human spirit, and the power of mercy! Zamperini's story is one worth listening to.

So, that’s my little book review. I highly recommend it. I haven’t seen the movie yet—though I hear the film version, unfortunately, doesn’t include what happened to Zamperini after the war.

Other than that, I’m currently enjoying the spring weather. Everything around here is beautiful right now—the landscape is plush and green, and bursting with colorful blooms. I’m always glad to see that each year—and amazed that it happens without fail. God is good.


  1. Thanks for the update, Br. Francis, and thanks for your good prayers and work for our monastery and the Church.

  2. I gave this book to my husband for his birthday. After reading your review, I hope he finishes it soon!

  3. I just finished it. Though certainly grim, I couldn't put it down (though it does have its moments of genuine humor, too). It's just a good story--and well-researched, too. As I mentioned, the best part of the story (which is not in the film), is the period after Zamperini returns home from the war, unable (and unwilling) to deal with what had happened to him. He really hits rock bottom--from such a hopeful, never-say-die person to one living in despair, fear, and murderous anger. His conversion, and what effect that has on him, is really something. He discovers that God had never left his side, despite all that had happened to him. The last scene [spoiler alert], where he is running the Olympic torch past his former POW camp site while being cheered by throngs of Japanese (whom he had long since forgiven) really tugs at the heart. Highly recommended -- hope you and your husband both enjoy it!